October 5, 2012

Hari Ragat: Courtship Tournaments

Sometimes a maiden is so famous that she is sure to have a plethora of heroic suitors vying for her hand. This occasions the most epic form of courtship, the courtship tournament, which brings in as many suitors as possible at the same time and pits them against each other in various contests. The maiden is both the prize and the judge! Courtship tournaments typically follow the sequence below:

1) Arrival and welcome of the suitors. Each suitor and his retinue of friends, kinsmen and followers will be formally welcomed with gifts of buyo, food and rice wine, and given their own quarters. The suitors get to know each other informally. It’s very possible that old enemies will meet each other here.

2) When all the expected suitors are assembled, or on the date appointed by the maiden’s father, an introductory feast is held at which all the suitors are presented to the maiden and the maiden’s parents, and all suitors are expected to give the maiden and her parents extravagant, impressive gifts.

The maiden now reveals what trials she has planned for the suitors during the feast. The feast is followed by an all-night drinking session at which the suitors usually try to outdo each other in boasting, which often leads to the first duels.

3) At least three or more trials, all aimed at making the suitors show their true character as well as their valor and prowess. There is at least one sport contest – usually sipa; at least one contest of grace or breeding and education, such as dancing, riddles, poetry, etc. etc.; and at least one anything-goes race to find some hidden item and bring it back to the maiden.

There may be variants based on region: for example the Kalataganons may include contests of horsemanship, while the Hiyasanuns may include a contest of diving. There will often be disputes after every contest, possibly leading to more duels …

4) The winner of the contests and the maiden’s choice are announced at another feast. Usually these are one and the same, but sometimes they’re not. In the latter case the adjudged winner of the contests receives rich prizes, which may not always be enough consolation!

5) The wedding is held with the maiden’s choice of suitor, gifts and the bride price are exchanged, and then the new couple sail back to the groom’s hometown. Ambushes by jilted suitors are a strong possibility along the way.

During courtship tournaments, the host’s house and lands are usually considered a truce area where any hostilities by guests against each other is considered a deadly insult to the host. Formal duels are allowed, though, and of course anything goes once outside the bounds of the host’s domain!

Some maidens may try to secretly aid their favored suitor, this being a practice known from the epics and secretly sought after by the suitors. In between the first feast and the trials, suitors may try to have meetings with the maiden, or serenade her from below her window, in the hopes of receiving such a favor.

(The above is a blend of my own creations and ideas taken from Philippine epics such as Indarapatra at Sulayman, particularly about the hero receiving secret help from the maiden during the courtship contests).

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